The book concerns the frustrations of users of the Unixoperating system. Many users had come from systems that they felt were far more sophisticated in computer science terms, and they were tremendously frustrated by the worse is better design philosophy that they felt Unix and much of its software encapsulated.
The book is now rather dated, most of the material being from around
1990, and many of the problems cited no longer exist. For example, it
complains about the lack of a journaling file system
and states that a graphical user interface would be an oxymoron for
Unix, but these features are now standard. A large proportion of the
complaints are about anomalies in the command line interface. It
predates the rise of Linux
and thus concerns the several commercial versions of Unix then
available (the inconsistencies between them being another major
complaint in the book), most of which have since ceased to exist.
This book was printed as a trade paperback. Its front cover was designed to be similar to The Scream. An air sickness bag, printed with the phrase "UNIX barf bag", was inserted into the inside back cover of every copy, by the publisher.
The front-matter page's dedication says: "To Ken and Dennis, without whom this book would not have been possible." These are references to Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, the creators of Unix. Dennis provided an "anti-foreword" which the authors placed near the beginning of the book.